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CAPE ROUTE 62 IN THE PRESS

Winter magic in Montagu

2008-06-30

Cape Times Travel Section
June 30 2008
By Graham Howe

We pass through the landmark arch in the Cogmanskloof, a narrow tunnel carved through the rock by legendary road-builder Thomas Bain.

Jagged sandstone shards erupt from the earth into a big blue Karoo sky. A troop of baboons haunts the ruins of an old British fort on the rocky ridge, guarding the gateway to the hamlet of Montagu.

On March 23, 2003, the Cogman's River burst its banks, rising to the highest level in 70 years, flooding dwellings, farms and wine cellars far and wide. By chance, we come this way again five years later to the day. You can still see the high-water mark where the flood-waters rewrote the course of the river through this narrow ravine.

A delivery truck had overturned on a sharp bend, spilling loaves of bread all over the road on Easter Saturday. We overtake a crowd of locals, returning home with an armful of free loaves. There'll be no shortage of bread in Montagu this weekend.

Montagu is a picturesque Cape country town of gabled, thatched, white-washed stone houses, steeples, rose gardens and orchards. The curator of Joubert House, one of Montagu's many national monuments, takes us on a tour of a museum, which depicts village life in the 19th century - from the handmade wax "poppies" (dolls) in the children's bedroom to the kitchen and pantry with peach-pip floors. She recalls the dinner service on display was used by Paul Kruger and his party in the dining-room.

Seasonal South African produce The museum has a fascinating herb garden which sustains the rich oral history of indigenous medicinal plants passed down by farmers and the Khoisan in the district. You can buy an A-Z of traditional herbal remedies cultivated in the garden. The dried herbs in paper bags on the shelf promise relief from every ailment.

Lovers' Walk leads from the backstreets of Montagu through the kloof to the hot springs. Overshadowed by sheer cliffs, the path meanders through the reeds, crossing the stream on stepping-stones. Baboons bark and dassies scurry across the rocks.

A story lies behind every façade in Montagu. We took a self-guided walking tour which tells the history of more than 20 Cape Dutch, Edwardian, Georgian and Victorian buildings - many dating back to the founding of Montagu in the 1850s.

We stayed at Mimosa Lodge, a landmark on Church Street which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2009. Built in 1859, this two-storey Edwardian townhouse and national monument has led many lives - as a farmhouse, boarding house, brothel and lodging for travellers. The old wooden landing and verandah creak with the ghosts of past guests. Today, Mimosa Lodge is a four-star boutique hotel with 16 luxury suites in the art deco style, and a renowned gourmet destination with a fine dining restaurant.

An ideal winter getaway Mimosa Lodge is set in a quintessential Karoo garden filled with succulents, orchards, olive trees, vegetables and herbs. The views of the Cogmanskloof from the patio of our luxurious garden suite were superb - best appreciated over a sundowner of muscadel, the signature wine of Montagu. While cooling down in the saltwater marble pool in the courtyard, I watched a noisy flock of ibis flying overhead, returning at sunset to their nests in the willows on the dam on the corner of Barry Street.

I idly watched one of the kitchen crew picking herbs and vegetables for dinner - a table d'hote menu which won Mimosa Lodge an American Express Platinum Fine Dining Award in 2007. After running Ma Cuisine, a landmark for fine dining in Johannesburg, city slickers Bernhard and Fida Hess swapped the bright lights for the peace and quiet of Montagu.

There has been no looking back for the new owners. Art deco cabinets, lights and draped columns set a theatrical stage in the dining room for a nightly culinary performance. The menu showcases seasonal South African produce - as well as Mimosa's own wines made by Bernhard Hess in a creative partnership with Arendsig cellar near Bonnievale. Afterwards, guests retire to the chic art deco lounge with its walnut piano and buck horn bar-stools.

Montagu is an ideal winter getaway and base to explore the food and wine routes of the Robertson Wine Valley. Mimosa Lodge also offers an all-inclusive adventure weekend package which includes a fossil walk through Mount Eco Reserve, 4x4 routes, a popular tractor ride and potjiekos lunch in the Koo Valley, a Karoo cruise on mountain bikes and cheese, wine and olive tastings.

Other popular activities in the region include Soekershof Maze, river rafting, river cruises and fruit farm tours.


Mimosa Lodge, Montagu. Call 023 614 2351

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